LEAVE THE RULES ALONE

Major League Baseball and the Major League Player’s Association have reached agreement on an amendment to Rule 601 regarding Interference, Obstruction and Catcher Collisions. According to the MLB announcement, this amendment, specifically Rule 601(j), requires that a runner ‘make a bona fide attempt to reach and remain on the base’. It goes on to state that ‘runners may still initiate contact with the fielder as a consequence of an otherwise permissible slide. A runner will be specifically prohibited from changing his pathway to the base or utilizing a ‘roll block’ for the purpose of initiating contact with the fielder.’

This rule, will always be known as the Chase Utley Rule because it was initiated by Dodger Chase Utley’s slide into second base in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series last year which resulted in Ruben Tejada suffering a broken leg.
Utley was suspended for two games for the slide which was illegal under the old rule.

Under the new rule, not only would the runner from first be called out, the batter would be called out as well no matter whether the throw got there in time to get him or not. The rule as written before did not contain a provision for the batter being called out after a violation of this section in a double play situation but prohibited runners advancing after such violation.

There are four conditions that must be met for a slide to be a ‘bona fide attempt to reach and remain on the base’. These are;

1. The runner must begin the slide before reaching the base.
2. The runner must be able to and try to reach base with either his hand or foot.
3. The runner must be able to and try to remain on the base.
4. The runner must slide within reach of the base without changing his pathway for purposes of initiating contact with the fielder.

So, we have a new amendment to an old rule that is intended as MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark said in his release ‘ to enhance player safety, reduce incidents of injury and do it in a way that respects and preserves the bona fide hustle plays that are integral to our game.’

The goal of protecting the fielders from injury is commendable as is the idea that, if the runner illegally interferes with a throw trying to get another runner out, that that runner should be out as well. However, as in the case of Chase Utley’s slide, there was already a deterrent in place for such blatantly illegal and dangerous slide. He was suspended for two days.

The basic principle behind penalties for improper behavior, whether in baseball or society, is to deter and prevent future behavior of the same kind. If, in this case, the baseball hierarchy felt that that penalty would not deter such slides, perhaps a more severe penalty would work, rather than changing the rule. One proposal I heard was for a player who injures another in an illegal slide to be punished by suspension for the amount of time the injured player loses from play as a result of the injury.

This would make more sense to me than adding another, lengthy and somewhat confusing, section to rule 6.01 which was already nine pages long in a rule book which is 282 pages long. Why not just add a provision making the batter automatically out if interference is called in this situation.

Instead we get a completely new description, which basically reflects how the old rule was applied, with less room for a common sense interpretation of the rule. The only sensible addition to the old situation was the automatic out provision which, by itself, made sense.

After, or at the same time, deciding that they need to adopt an amendment to Rule 6.01 to enhance player safety, specifically the safety of middle infielders, those same geniuses decided to make the ‘neighborhood play’, reviewable by instant replay. The neighborhood play was allowed and not reviewable because it provided some degree of protection for the middle infielders in the same double play pivot situation.

So, on the one hand, we have a new rule protecting the infielders from collisions and, on the other hand, we have a new rule that keeps them closer to the bag and more susceptible to collision and injury.

New York Mets Manager Terry Collins, whose short stop was the victim in the Utley slide, had this to say about the new rule, ‘…now we’re making a decision on the neighborhood play that you’ve got to stay on the base. You know what that’s going to mean? Someone is going to get their clock cleaned.’

We live in a society where we are governed by politicians who think the solution to every problem is to throw a new law at it. That is often not the best way to deal with a problem. Baseball had probably changed more in the past five years than it did in the previous century and a half of its existence.

Enough with the laws and the lawyers. Let the players play the game as they have since it began. It is a game played by highly skilled, finely conditioned athletes who get bigger and faster every generation. You can make rules until the proverbial cows come home but you can’t take the danger out of the game.

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